Triple Yikes! Working my way through the less remembered Poltergeist sequels, it turns out that neither II or III have ever been issued in DVD as individual films, which kind of explains why I’ve not come across them. That’s almost certainly because of the famous ‘curse of Poltergeist’, an urban myth which creative a specious narrative to explain the absence of a central actress after the first film, and Heather O’Rourke’s death from Crohn’s disease before the release of the final film of the trilogy. If execs hoped to turn this misfortune into a marketing tool, it didn’t work, with each film making a fraction of the one before; no matter what you do to prepare yourself for a drop-off in quality, Poltergeist III is an astonishingly poor film.
The only two returning characters here are Carol-Anne Freeling ( a clearly unwell O’Rourke) and psychic guardian Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein). There was a vogue for movies set in office blocks in the 80s’ from Demons 2 to Gremlins 2, and the action switches from suburbia to a Chicago skyscraper, where Carol-Anne is somehow staying with her uncle Bruce and aunt Pat (genre stalwarts Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen). Bruce somehow lives in and is manager of the John Hancock Centre, one of the largest skyscrapers in the world, and nobody seems aware of the Freeling family past. Carol-Anne is enlisted in a school for gifted kids where various ill-advised psychic proddings send a signal to the evil Cain (now played by Nathan Davis) who tries to steal her again and take her to the other side…
Poltergeist III was re-edited due to O’Rourke’s death in post-production, and rarely looks like it’s making any sense at all; director Gary Sherman was a good choice based on films like Death Line and Dead & Buried, and came up with a cool idea to avoid the gnarly special effects of the first two films; no visual effects at all. Or rather, in camera effects only, mostly using mirrors, all rather ingenious. If the story or the characters had made a lick of sense, it’s a strategy that might have worked, but Poltergeist III is even more of a guddle than the second film was.
As misguided sequels go, Poltergeist III is a prime example of what can go wrong; focusing on one character from the original, it completely fails to extend the story in any significant way, and it’s hard to imagine why anyone following the drama of the Freeling family would want to spend twenty minutes watching the daughter of their previously unmentioned uncle hijacking the surveillance system of the security guards so she can organise a teenage swimming party in a skyscraper. What’s all this got to do with poltergiests? Absolutely nothing, and so our visit to this forgotten franchises grinds to an end, with only the vague uptick of the 2016 reboot to look forward to.